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Blu-ray Review: 'Witchboard'

Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols in "Witchboard"
Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols in "Witchboard"Yahoo Images

The Film:

Just a couple of years before unleashing perhaps his most famous film (“Night of the Demons”), Kevin Tenney made his directing debut with “Witchboard,” an old-school, atmospheric horror flick that focuses on a group of friends at a party who communicate with spirits through a Ouija board. Brandon (Stephen Nichols) has done this several times before, communicating with the spirit of a young boy named David, who died in a tragic accident at the age of ten. His former best friend, Jim (Todd Allen), thinks the whole thing is ridiculous, but Jim’s girlfriend, Linda (Tawny Kitaen), wants to give it a try. Brandon and Linda successfully make contact, but the session comes to an abrupt end when the spirit becomes perturbed. Meanwhile, Jim remains skeptical that anything really happened. However, as Linda’s interest in the board grows, stranger things begin to happen, leading Brandon and Jim to believe that something is after her, something from the other side.

On the surface, “Witchboard” looks like a campy, cheesy horror film that most would shrug off pretty quickly, but it’s those qualities that make it more enjoyable than most of the same ilk. It’s one of those movies that you can watch and take seriously, while not taking it so seriously at the same time, somewhat like the “Friday the 13th” movies of the same period. However, the film also has a neat little mystery quality to it, making you wonder what’s really going on with this Ouija board and the spirits that the characters are supposedly connecting to. There are times when it begins to drag, particularly in the last 30 minutes or so, but the atmosphere and the mystery help things move along pretty well, leading right up to the ridiculously silly climax (featuring perhaps the worst “falling out of a window” shot I’ve ever seen). If you’re a fan of old-school horror done well, then this could be right up your alley.

Video/Audio:

“Witchboard” comes to Blu-ray in a refreshing 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer that makes the film look better than it ever has. Previous DVD copies couldn’t help but look a little dull and grainy, but the quality here shows that Shout! Factory really took their time with the restoration. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio has also had a great makeover, with particular attention given to the creepy soundtrack, which now sounds crystal clear. Overall, you really couldn’t ask for better quality for a low-budget horror film that’s nearly 30 years old.

Special Features:

Included on the disc are the following extras:

  • New Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Tenney and Actors Stephen Nichols, Kathleen Wilhoite, and James Quinn
  • Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Kevin Tenney, Executive Producer Walter Josten, and Producer Jeff Geoffray
  • Progressive Entrapment – The Making of Witchboard
  • Vintage Making of Witchboard
  • Cast Interviews
  • On Set with Todd Allen and Stephen Nichols
  • On Set with the Makers of Witchboard
  • Life on the Set
  • Constructing the World of Witchboard
  • Outtakes
  • Behind the Scenes Gallery
  • Promo Gallery

As you can clearly see, Shout! Factory did not skimp on the extras for this release, but just because there’s a large quantity of them doesn’t mean that they are all worth watching. Looking at the two commentary tracks, we find one with the cast and crew, and one with just the crew. The former has a few bits of interesting info, but like most tracks that try to get too many people involved, a lot of joking goes on, so you don’t learn all that much. The track with Tenney and the producers is the much more informative track and is the one that is a better use of time.

The main featurette that is worth taking a look at is “Progressive Entrapment – The Making of Witchboard,” a 45-minute, in depth look at how the film got made. It features interviews with cast and crew detailing how the whole thing got started and goes right up through their surprise at its eventual popularity at its screenings. The vast majority of extra material is taken up with vintage interviews and random footage from the set. While some of it is interesting for its nostalgic value, eventually it gets a little dull to watch, especially when you realize that not much is being said in the interviews.

Conclusion:

With one really good commentary track and “Making of” featurette, on top of the decent film, this is an easily recommendable release. As I said, there will be some who are quick to dismiss it as overly-silly and outdated, but for those who are fans of old-school horror films, it will provide a good amount of entertainment with its slow-building mystery and cheesy scares. It may not be the most mind-blowing film of the supernatural genre, but for a low-budget freshman effort, “Witchboard” is better than expected.

Score: 3.5/5

Available on Blu-ray starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: Dallas Buyers Club, The Fifth Estate, Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Elysium, The Hunt, Touchy Feely, The Rooftop, Drinking Buddies, Inpractical Jokers: Season One, Planes, Paranoia, The To Do List, Blackfish

Now playing in theaters: Labor Day, The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club

Also be sure to check out my lists of the Best and Worst Films of 2013.

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.